lake chad young girl


Lake Chad initiative creates green jobs for local communities

The BIOPALT (Biosphere and Heritage of Lake Chad) project has set itself an ambitious objective – to enable local inhabitant to live and work peacefully on the shores of Lake Chad. Launched in 2018 for a period of four years, the project aims to take stock of the region’s natural resources so that they can be managed more sustainably. Pilot actions to restore various ecosystems and foster the development of a green economy will also be carried out.

The BIOPALT (Biosphere and Heritage of Lake Chad) project has set itself an ambitious objective – to enable local inhabitant to live and work peacefully on the shores of Lake Chad. Launched in 2018 for a period of four years, the project aims to take stock of the region’s natural resources so that they can be managed more sustainably. Pilot actions to restore various ecosystems and foster the development of a green economy will also be carried out. 

The challenges are enormous. Lake Chad and its basin, a 1,000-year-old crossroads of civilisations between West and Central Africa, is home to over 45 million women, men, and children. Shared between Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Central African Republic and Chad, they abound in exceptional biodiversity symbolised by the presence of biosphere reserves, World Heritage sites and wetlands of international importance (also called Ramsar sites). 

Le projet BIOPALT promeut la gestion durable des ressources naturelles  © UNESCO / Abou Hadamou
The BIOPALT project promotes the sustainable management of natural resources © UNESCO / Abou Hadamou

Despite the recent increase of the surface area of Lake Chad, its ecosystems are still facing serious instability and fragility, having lost 90% of its surface between 1960 and 1985. Deforestation, drought, and biodiversity loss are exacerbated by conflicts that cause highly disruptive population migrations. 

Within the framework of the BIOPALT project, UNESCO is working with communities in Lake Chad, among the poorest in the world, and applying the principles of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme to develop culturally appropriate income-generating activities (IGAs) based on the green economy. These activities range from the creation of an early warning system for droughts and floods to the re-establishment of a fishing industry and the production of lucerne for the endemic Kouri cow, which plays an important role in social cohesion.  

In Niger, these IGAs strengthen the socio-economic resilience of nearly 30,000 people, including 13,000 women. Salamatou, a woman from the village of Boulangou Yakou, has been trained to produce Balanite oil (desert dates), a very popular and traditional foodstuff. It reduces soil erosion and is used for food and medicine purposes by communities. 

Production d’Huile de Balanites dans le village de Boulangou Yakou © UNESCO / Abou Hadamou
Production of Balanite Oil in the village of Boulangou Yakou © UNESCO / Abou Hadamou
The production and sale of Balanite oil has changed my life. It allows me to be more independent and to meet the basic needs of my family

Nearby, the 5 km² Djonaha pond is the economic lung for thousands of people. However, for many years it has been facing a problem of silting up and invasion by Typha australis, which could lead to its disappearance. The BIOPALT project has enabled the pond to be rehabilitated by helping the fishermen to remove the Typha australis, planting Bauhinia rufescens as a hedgerow to combat wind erosion and filling the pond with 3,000 fingerlings. 

Empoissonnement de la Mare de Djonaha au Niger © UNESCO / Abou Hadamou
Fish filling of the Djonaha pond in Niger © UNESCO / Abou Hadamou

Moving further south into the Cameroonian countryside, in the villages of Andirni and Djermé, the women are now using ecological stoves made by themselves from local materials. Since then, they need less wood to cook and the stoves produce very little smoke, which makes their kitchens more comfortable.  

Preserving food used to take a lot of time and energy, but recently these women have adopted new skills and sustainable lifestyles that do not overexploit the natural resources of the local forest in the Waza Biosphere Reserve, which was created over 40 years ago. 

Further key objectives of the BIOPALT project are to reduce the food insecurity of the local population and to lead women to income-generating activities that could see women's income levels increase by more than 50% by the end of the project. For example, women are supported in various projects for growing cash crops, through the distribution of improved seeds for growing onions, millet, sorghum, and groundnuts. 

In this region where climate change and desertification have considerably deteriorated the physical environment, the women aim to plant 1000 fruit trees such as mango. These trees will not only contribute to the reforestation of the Waza Biosphere Reserve but will also provide food and income for many families. 

Le projet BIOPALT soutient les efforts visant à préserver le bétail Kouri
BIOPALT project supports efforts to preserve the Kouri cattle. © Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC)

Across the border in Nigeria, the Hadejia-Nguru-Bade Biosphere Reserve is also affected by Typha. The solution proposed to farmers in the BIOPALT project was to produce fodder from this rhizomatous root to generate economic benefits while helping to reduce its expansion and environmental impact.    

In the whole Lake Chad region, one can come across the Kouri cow, an endemic species. It confers prestige and is a source of pride for the breeders. It maintains a centuries-old tradition of nomadism strongly rooted in the cultural identity of local communities. Nevertheless, this species is weakened by the shrinking of the lake as it does not tolerate the dune and arid areas resulting from the drought. The BIOPALT project supports the training of farmers in the production, exploitation, and marketing of lucerne for livestock in a specially created 5 ha forage farm. Since then, milk production has increased to 10 litres per day per cow, allowing the sale of by-products (butter, curdled milk).  Almost 5,000 people now benefit from this activity. 

Originally from the Mbororo pastoral community in Chad, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is a pillar of the Basin. Her first name, derived from "Hind" in Arabic, symbolises tenacity. Her people, nomadic herders living in the far west of the country, have developed a set of traditional practices and knowledge of weather forecasting based on their interactions over generations with their environment. During periods of drought or unexpected weather events, the Mbororo community turns to their knowledge to adapt to seasonal changes, often travelling vast distances in the semi-arid Sahel in search of water and pasture. Today, Hindu is a member of the technical and scientific committee of the BIOPALT project and is collaborating with UNESCO to carry out a participatory 3D mapping of the Sahel desert region in Chad. As president of the Association of Women and Indigenous Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), she works to empower indigenous peoples.

If we do not protect the different varieties of ecosystems, the balance of our planet will be lost
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim

For her part, Bevia Respa lives in Bol. Nicknamed "The Woman of the Lake", she has made the fight against malnutrition her battle horse. To achieve this, she relies on spirulina, a protein-rich algae that grows in the lake’s water table. The BIOPALT project is accompanies Bevia in the labelling of this nutraceutical algae.  

The lake offers a multitude of nutritional and food resources to its inhabitants; we must learn to exploit it
Bevia Respa

All these examples of locally managed green economies also protect Lake Chad communities from the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. This health crisis shows us that environmental degradation and the "predation" of humans on biodiversity, if it continues, will lead humanity into an increasingly dark and uncertain future. This inescapable fact, along with climate change, must remain at the heart of our reflections even when the danger has passed, so that one day perhaps Lake Chad will be designated by the international community as a Transboundary Biosphere Reserve. 

The health crisis has made us realise how much our health depends on the environment
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim